What: Phoenix Suns (17-10) vs. New Orleans Pelicans
When: 6:00 P.M. MST
Where: Smoothie King Center
Watch: Fox Sports, League Pass
Listen: 98.7 FM
The Suns venture to the Big Easy to face off against one of their favorite foes (this is the ultimate sarcasm – trust me) in Zion Williamson as they strive to avenge a heartbreaking defeat against James Harden and the Nets.
The Pels have struggled to find their wings as of late. They dropped four of their last five contests, and are sitting uncomfortably at the 11th slot in the West.
Despite their team issues though, Williamson himself has been an absolute PROBLEM for opposing defenses. He’s averaging 31.6 points per game through their last five, and posting a whopping 71% shooting mark from the floor.
Oh – and the last time he faced the Suns, he absolutely killed them from every angle – be it post scoring, jumpers, or baseline drives. You name it, and he did it en route to 20 points on a short-bursted outing as the Pels blew out a lost Phoenix squad.
Projected Starting Lineups
Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Frank Kaminsky, Deandre Ayton
Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Willy Hernangomez
Pelicans: Steven Adams – ankle, day-to-day (doubtful for game)
Keys to the Game:
Goal numero uno for Phoenix is simple and plain – although it’s much easier said than done: slow down Williamson. Completely stopping him is not going to be in the question, but Monty Williams and troupe are going to have to make the utmost effort to try and minimize his dominance.
Zion Williamson in the W tonight:— Hilltop Hoops (@HilltopNBA) February 17, 2021
Bully ball pic.twitter.com/dbe7kcmor4
Defensively, this implies employing a similar scheme to the one that teams have used for years to conquer Giannis Antetokounmpo in the playoffs: stack the box, force him to the middle of the floor, and hurl numerous double-teams at him. Williamson may be a better shooter than Giannis already, so forcing jump shots should elicit a few made baskets, but they’ll take those over easy layups and rim-rocking man’s jams.
Exploting the Pels’ D
With Steven Adams limited, Phoenix will have an opportune chance to inflict damage upon NO’s depleted front line, which pits Deandre Ayton as an incredibly important offensive focal point heading into the matchup. Ayton was impressive vs. Brooklyn (albeit outside of the teams’ troubling fourth quarter woes), and seized full control of the paint as he went for 16 points, and grabbed nine boards.
Phoenix had an obvious strategy to get him involved early and often during the game, and whether it was one-on-one post up play-calls, running the lane on fast break opportunities, or even striking his opponent with his improving jumper, Ayton was a versatile force.
New Orleans is also surrendering a league-worst 16.1 3’s per game, and third-worst 39.3% ratio from the beyond the arc, so sharpshooters like Cam Johnson, E’Twaun Moore and Langston Galloway are sure to see their opportunities swell from deep. The Pels’ 28th-ranked defensive rating (115.7) should be welcome sight for Phoenix’s highly-potent offensive onslaught.
Devin Booker’s mind will be squarely on redemption after failing to convert his final shot attempt against Brooklyn in the team’s perilous collapse, while Chris Paul has another brilliant scoring night in his return to the city that welcomed him with open arms at his career’s inception. He doesn’t want to lose to this team specifically – especially not twice.
The Suns have grown accustomed to winning near the midway point of this season, and as pissed off as they should’ve been about their Nets falter, they’ll leave little breathing room for error as they strive to ascend back into the win column.
Phoenix takes down the Pels 108-96.